The most glitzy and glamorous event on the Comrades Marathon’s social calendar kicked off at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Friday, 21 October 2011.  The ‘Cathsseta Spirit of Comrades Awards’ is an annual event, whereby a maximum of three individuals are rewarded for embodying the true ‘Spirit of the Comrades Marathon’ and being an inspiration to humanity.

The exciting occasion saw outstanding Comrades runners being honoured for their humaneness, athletic achievements or other positive nation-building attributes as well as being presented with a distinguished one-ounce, 24 carat gold medallion, courtesy of Cathsseta. The awards banquet has been an ongoing feature of the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) since 1995.

Recipients of the prestigious award are based on nominations received from CMA members, Comrades Marathon runners and the general public and are subject to the discretion of the CMA Board. The criteria for the awards are far-reaching with special emphasis placed on Comrades Marathon winners, legends, volunteers and otherwise ordinary heroes and heroines, who through individual acts of sacrifice, service, courage or perseverance, either in a single race, or over a period of time, demonstrate the noble qualities associated with ‘The Ultimate Human Race’.

Among this year’s ‘Cathsseta Spirit of Comrades’ recipients was Dr Wayne Korras, who was instrumental in growing the Bedfordview Country Club’s (BCC) Athletics Team and served as club captain for several years. Not only that, up until 2006 Wayne had amassed 15 Comrades medals under his belt, which included 6 silvers and a Personal Best of 6h50. Unfortunately, in March of that year, Wayne was involved in a tragic accident whilst training. This resulted in a traumatic brain injury, medically termed as diffuse axonal injury (DAI), which left him in a coma for 28 days.

Medical professionals will tell you that 90% of patients with severe DAI never regain consciousness and those who do awake, often remain significantly impaired. Being a general practitioner at the time of the accident, Wayne had to learn how to walk, talk, swallow, chew and perform every basic function from scratch and underwent physiotherapy and occupational therapy on a daily basis for months. His extensive injuries also meant that his medical practitioner’s license was revoked.

Wayne’s recovery has been nothing short of phenomenal. He returned to Comrades in 2009 and completed the race in a time of 7h51. That however was not good enough. He trained harder for the following year and regained his silver medal status in 2010 with a time of 7h26. That magical year saw his medical license being reinstated and Wayne returned to his profession as a doctor.

Wayne has always been known for his enthusiasm for running and his absolute passion for the Comrades Marathon, so it was only fitting that he reclaimed his top position and was the BCC’s top Comrades runner in 2011 with a finishing time of 7h05. The good doctor has been described as a dedicated, passionate and determined person, who is a true example of the Spirit of Comrades.

Next in line for the golden handshake was popular Kwaito star Kabelo Mabalane. This charming young man had a long battle against drugs and substance abuse before deciding to clean up his act and become the inspiration that he is today. 

Also known by his stage name Kabelo or Bouga Luv, he is also a songwriter and actor. He was a member of the well-known kwaito trio TKZee. Kabelo co-owns Faith Records, an independent South African music company. On a solo level, he has launched at least six albums and more than 8 albums together with TKZee.

Since his ‘dark days’, Kabelo has gone on to win the 2004 Kora Award for Best Southern Africa Male Artist. Most notably, he has taken on the Comrades Marathon challenge on six occasions consecutively since 2006, finishing in just under nine hours in this years race. Kabelo has also featured on the August 2008 cover of Runner's World magazine for making his mark in long distance running.

In addition to his Comrades medals and many other accomplishments, he was also the Ambassador for the National Youth Run, serving as a motivator to the youth to stay away from drugs and alcohol abuse and to take up the adrenaline-pumping sport of running. Kabelo has inspired many individuals to look on the brighter side of life and work hard towards making their dreams come true.  

The CMA salutes the achievements of this inspirational celebrity and in keeping with the indomitable Comrades spirit, awarded him with the ‘Cathsseta Spirit of Comrades’ gold medallion.

The famous deaf-blind author and political activist Helen Keller once said: ‘There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark.’ These wise words can not be more apt to the noble deeds of the CMA’s final recipient of the gold medallion, the kind-hearted Michael Wilkinson.

A Green Number Holder with 11 Comrades Marathon medals to his name, 36 year old Michael is a teacher at a private school in Polokwane in the beautiful land of the baobab tree. Being a member of the Polokwane Athletic Club, he ran his first Comrades in 1999 and for the past six years, has taken on a much respected and praiseworthy role of training partner and guide to blind runner Stefan Steyn. Stefan is also a member of the Polokwane Athletic Club.

Together, this unusual but admirable pair of Comrades runners has conquered the grueling 89km road-running race six times, including a Bill Rowan medal. They also do most of their road races together. Fellow runners of their local running club have credited Michael’s hugely unselfish ways and his dedication in always lending a helping hand to Stefan. For his humility, helpfulness and living out the genuine Comrades spirit, Michael took home the gold!

Another exciting facet of the dazzling evening was the ‘Recognition of Valued Support’ to three individuals who wholeheartedly embody the ethos of giving off their best. This noteworthy Comrades acknowledgement is presented to those people who have made a commendable and discernible contribution to the CMA and ‘The Ultimate Human Race’ in their own special way.

First in line for the honour was CMA Board and Race Organising Committee (ROC) member, Jeff Minnaar for his amazing 40 years of outstanding service to the CMA and the iconic race. Jeff has gone a long way in raising the standards of service over the many decades that he has been with the CMA. All things considered, four decades of voluntary service is no walk in the park!

Over the years, Jeff has taken on various roles, including being Chairman of the Comrades Executive Committee, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, serving as Convener of the Refreshment Tables, then starting out as member of the Finish Venue Portfolio and thereafter taking over as Convener.

His service has been nothing short of commendable and praiseworthy. Add to all of the above, the fact that this dedicated individual has also conquered ‘The Ultimate Human Race’ back in 1979, when he ran for Collegians Harriers Running Club.

The CMA has also paid due recognition to two pivotal individuals at the Comrades Marathon’s host broadcast partners, SABC. They have gone to great lengths over the years to deliver a quality broadcast of ‘The Ultimate Human Race’ to millions across the Rainbow Nation.

Jack Downie shares an incredible 41 years in helping broadcast South Africa’s biggest road running race over the years. At the start of his involvement with Comrades, the SABC was only equipped to do broadcasts via its radio stations so the bulk of the work was done in its radio studios, where Jack did maintenance and special broadcasts.

Due to no special equipment being available in those days, the team had to use walkie talkies, on which many hours were spent tuning them to get the best signal possible. Three years during the 1970’s saw Jack heading off to the City of Gold to be trained in television and this was the only time that he was not involved in the iconic marathon.

Since the Comrades Marathon’s first television broadcast, Jack was deeply involved in the network arrangement for communications and TV signals as well as all other local requirements. He also served as one of the coordinators or unit supervisors on Race Day. From 1995 until Jack’s retirement in 2010, he was the overall technical coordinator for the Comrades Marathon broadcast.

The SABC’s Pim Lubbe was the CMA’s third noteworthy recipient of the Certificate of ‘Valued Support Recognition’. He has over a period of 34 years, been of immense service to the Comrades Marathon via the SABC, which he joined in 1977 as a Main Control operator.

His initial Comrades experience began on 31 May of that year in the form of broadcasting for Radio Port Natal. At that stage, he concedes that he did not have any major input into the broadcast other than learning the systems.

The following year saw him actively involved in Main Control to ensure that the correct signals got to the correct places. The year 1980 was witness to him moving across to the radio workshop as a technician where he had hands-on experience with the radio equipment, which was still only for radio broadcasts of the Comrades.

Television broadcasts of ‘The Ultimate Human Race’ only started in 1983, and this afforded Pim the opportunity to get involved in the TV Outside Broadcast (OB) side of the SABC as a technician. This was also the start of Pim and Jack working together on TV OB’s and taking the Comrades Marathon to greater heights.  

Finally, in a bid to reward those members of the media who go through leaps and bounds in making Comrades Marathon news accessible and available to the general public, the CMA presents the ‘Top Journalist of the Year’ with a cash prize. This year saw Modern Athlete reporter Michelle Pieters receiving the honour.

Based on the number of articles reported by any journalist over the course of the year, and independently verified by Newsclip Media Monitoring, Michelle came out tops as the biggest messenger of Comrades Marathon news. The ‘Print Media Analysis Report’ produced by Newsclip confirmed that Michelle had written a total of 51 articles over the course of the year.

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